While Last Train to Paris will inevitably be compared to modern hip hop classics like So Far Gone, Thank Me Later, 808s, and Man on the Moon, Diddy’s “brand new sound” - as proclaimed in the opening track “Yeah You Would” -finds its beginnings in his last wildly successful album, Press Play. The efforts to replicate the hit single “Last Night” into an entire album are obvious even without the sequel (only included in the deluxe edition, which I recommend and will be reviewed here). Other underappreciated songs from the second half of Press Play, such as “Thought You Said” and “Special Feeling”, blurred the lines between pop, hip hop and RnB long before Kanye’s mom passed away or anyone had heard of Aubrey Graham.
It’s no secret that hip hop has changed in the last few years, with emotion-based rap becoming the most successful. Whether it’s Eminem’s Recovery from irrelevance thanks to his new, loud, angry flow and emotional singles like Not Afraid and Love the Way You Lie; or Kanye West’s latest 13-track adventure fraught with pain, self-criticism, and arrogance ensuring him a handful of Grammy’s and a place in not only hip hop history, but musical history as well; or Drake’s run of success crowning him as the future king of rap, long gone are the days when anyone cares about whether or not a rapper used to wear a badge. Now hip hop fans are looking for a connection with artists that goes beyond street credibility and realness. On this album, Diddy tries to provide this connection and goes deeper into the topics of love and relationships than any other hip hop artist would dare try. Armed with autotune, his two new sidekicks, Dawn and Kaleena, an array of star guests, and a diverse team of talented producers, the grandfather of modern-day commercial hip hop sets out once more to redefine the genre.
One of those producers, Danja, shines on the three tracks he produces: “Yeah You Would”, “Hate You Now”, and “Hello Good Morning”. The latter combines a slick T.I. verse with a catchy chorus from Dirty Money over a stadium club beat, making it an easy choice for a hit single. The other two songs offer more substance and stronger vocals from the two girls, but don’t shy away from the dancefloor. “Ass on the Floor” and “Looking for Love” featuring Swizz Beatz and Usher respectively, are two other club anthems near the beginning of the album which are already slated as singles. In fact, nearly every song on this album, no matter the content, is club-worthy, another testament to the talents of Diddy and his production team.
A notable exception is “Angels”, the first single from the project featuring Rick Ross and the late Biggie Smalls. This song was the beginning of the Bugatti Boyz and Ross’s relationship with Diddy, and one can easily see why Diddy was so impressed when hearing the Boss’s verse. Ross drops a powerful, introspective verse reminiscent of his now-infamous “Mafia Music” bars:
I’m a photographers dream
counting cream as my chain swing
Mack 11 for the things that the days bring
I’m after chedder deadin money yeah I chase cream
patent leather like Im Puffy in my Saline
I rock jewels like my n-ggas in the A-Team
I’m out in space can’t you seem I am a Alien
my wrist A-List, Audemar’s ageless,
bezel lit up like a billboard out in Vegas
After Ross outshines Biggie on the same track, it’s hard not to make the comparison between the two rappers and wonder if the Boss has surpassed Biggie already. But outside of these two hip hop legends trading bars, Diddy and Dirty Money provide a strong chorus to make this a highlight of the album, though perhaps not the wisest choice for a single.
Even Justin Timberlake drops a jewel towards the end of the haunting “Shades”. Though perhaps not lyrically complex, JT swagger and quiet flow add the perfect touch to another strong point on the album:
I can read your mind, read your mind, Professor X
We can press rewind, press rewind, VHS
Speaking of the past, its so futuristic behind ya
Let me fill up your plate and dish it out, dish it out, China
I’mma bend yo body, bend yo body, Magneto
Let me have my way, I’mma have my way, Carlito
The last few tracks on the album sees our hero Diddy begin to approach a catharsis of self-realization, starting with the beautifully composed “I Know”. A choked up chorus from Seven of Richgirl and heart-wrenching verses from Diddy and Wiz Khalifa make this odd combination seem wise in hindsight. “Loving You No More” features a clever verse from the aforementioned Drake, and more painful lyrics from Diddy this time penned by hitmaker Sean Garrett. “Change” – the other track only included on the deluxe edition – was once proudly dubbed by its writer The-Dream as the best song he’s ever written. It’s a lofty claim for the genius behind “Single Ladies”, “Umbrella”, and “Touch My Body”, and unfortunately it may have been too bold. Nevertheless, the decision to leave this song off the standard edition is puzzling, as it may be the most genuine song Diddy’s ever done… if not for the next and final track. “Coming Home” sees Diddy teaming up with Jay-Z and the latest hotshot beatmaker Alex Da Kid for what might be the best song the latter’s produced so far, and will surely be the next big hit single off the project.
Traditional rap fans may view this album as “soft” or too “pop”, and they aren’t wrong with those descriptions. But they are quickly becoming oblivious to the changing landscape of hip hop – and with this album Diddy’s taken the train right off the tracks and into a whole new world. Dawn and Kaleena wouldn’t be able to carry their own solo careers, but they provide the perfect backdrop – always to assist Diddy as if they were instruments, never to be seen. Only Diddy’s money can pay for the lush Euro-influenced pop-dance production on this album, and only he can have the influence and respect in this industry to have such a star-studded guest lineup. This album is the perfect storm of everything that has made Diddy successful for the past 15 years, and if he continues to push boundaries like this, he could remain a force in hip hop for another 15.
Lyrics: 5/5 Beats: 5/5 Vibe/Concept: 5/5
Overall: 5 Mics out of 5
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